I speak of these people who studiously observe the screen of their iPod. Or iPhone. Or Zune. Whatever. The end of each song is an excuse to pick up the device and stare at the screen. Then there are those who pick up their device, hit “play” and live for the randomness of “shuffle.”
The new iPod shuffle? It’s definitely for the latter, not the former. Just when I thought it would be near impossible to make something smaller than the last shuffle, Apple manages to do just that with this announcement of the new 4GB version. The only button on the device is the power switch/lock button. Like the previous shuffle, it comes clip-equipped for attaching to clothing, hats etc.
As with everything iPod, the hardware might get your attention first, but it’s the software that makes it distinct.
In the case of the new shuffle, Apple’s tight control over iTunes (store/software) and iPods means that they can create a UI experience that speaks to the user. Literally. The iTunes software scans the shuffle’s folder of content in iTunes and creates the text-to-speech tags which are loaded onto the device with the song files. Thus, the shuffle’s contents can be read aloud — song title, artist name, playlist title, etc.
The user manipulates this trick-mode-plus interface by mastering a couple of simple pushes on the one control button which is now integrated into the headphones. As with all smaller devices, and redesigns of familiar products, manipulating the headphone-mounted controls takes some getting used to. A colleague, Van Baker, and I had a few minutes with the new Shuffle and were able to mostly figure it out despite our advanced age.
That isn’t important, however. Check it out yourself. Here’s what matters:
The new Shuffle is a $79 iPod with 4GB of storage
It has no screen but incorporates a clever text-to-speech navigation tool that appears to work (we only had a short time with it)
It comes with a clip that you can clip to your clothes or your nose
And it could also be a very interesting audio-book consumption device as well